Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I have been struggling with Auckland's propensity to reduce its past to rubble for more than thirty years.
Is it something in the city's gene pool that drives it to plan with the bulldozer and the wrecking ball?
Something must explain this scary consistency of destruction and arrogant disrespect of history.
A walk along either Nelson Street or Quay Street is a sad lesson in how incapable this city is of planning.
What other city would give its central waterfront over to car park buildings and strip malls. What city port owned by its citizens would crowd the central city waterfront with unripe bananas, second hand Japanese cars and ten story high stacks of empty containers and a cement plant.
As for Nelson street what other developed city would cram its CBD fringe with tower blocks of apartments only slightly larger than a family car.
It would be nice to think that this is some past aberration - that we had grown out of planners who never left their offices and read their city on sheets of "artists" renderings produced by architects trained to hate the vernacular.
But we have not.
In the short life of this brand new forward looking super city with a mayor pledged to urban design values and protecting heritage, heritage buildings continue to fall, and the city is contemplating a one story mall of freehold shops hardly larger than a fish ball stall in its main street. Barely a block along our last great heritage theatre rots behind a 1960s facade that was ugly before its first sheet of fibrolite was lifted off a truck and is uglier now.
Heritage, we should note, did not score even a mention on the Mayor's triumphant list of the 100 things he had done in his first 100 days.
Now 8 buildings deemed worthy of protection in the Wynyard Quarter, including two owned by Auckland Council, are facing demolition as the result of a deal done between the old Auckland City and the developers who own the land.
A deal so secret that a part of it was an agreement by both parties not to admit that there was a deal at all.
If the city did a deal it could only being doing that deal for the benefit of us all. Then what did we get from it.
What was the citizens benefit.
Under what scrutiny was this deal made and to whom were the deal makers on the city side accountable.
Unless this is revealed it is difficult not to presume that we the citizens get nothing save eight piles of rubble.
It is hard not believe that in assessing heritage the only tools the guardians of our heritage use are cronyism and the deal.
It is time for this to stop.
Enough wailing and waving of hands Mayor Len Brown.
Order a truly transparent and independent review of how your city does this stuff and order it now.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Elected to High Office

I took a brand new pen

And tore a sheet of paper from my pad.

I did not have to ponder the 100 things to do.

That would make those who put their trust in me

Feel justified and glad.

First thing that I wrote

Was: Make a list.

Then: Set up a committee,

To make sure that nothing’s missed.

Those were two quite simple things to do.

Missions easily accomplished.

Must not let my attention wander

So again I wrote.

Check the list.

That’s three.

This job is easy.

And to the end I went and added.

Read the list.

Four done and only ninety six to go.

So I set up ten committees.

Counting each one twice.

(The times that they would meet)

My list has now reached twenty three.

That’s really rather neat

Then: give councillors a job.

That’s one for each committee chair

And my list is looking pretty.

At thirty three I’m one third there.

How easy can this be?

Of course committees all have members.

Five each

Another fifty folk made happy.

My list is now at eighty plus

The things I’m going to do are looking pretty snappy.

Then: Check my desk

Another one

So easily done

And count the ten things on it.

And put my name up on the door

Its now up to ninety five, nearly to the magic ton.

Well ninety six if I count the reading note.

Clean teeth

Brush Hair

Go to the loo

The things I do are now nearly at one hundred - Whoo!

The last must be something memorable

To make it certain I’m recalled.

Something to confirm my date with History’s Great.

My name in golden letters upon the Honour Wall.

Acknowledging the plans I laid

The struggles and the visions planned.

The smiles, the photo ops the handshakes never missed.

Divinely guided without a pause I penned:

Never forget the day you wrote this list.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


The Dodo might puzzle you.
Well it once was fabulous and now is extinct. A poster bird for Auckland's Heritage.
To the simple minded, "who cares it was only a bird".
In 2006 Auckland City published a pamphlet, one of a series, St Heliers Village HERITAGE WALK with the now ironic sub heading A saunter through St Heliers Past.
You can saunter there no more.
St Heliers' past is mostly gone.
Of the nineteen historic attractions listed there, ten were buildings or groups of buildings.
Of the ten, six have been demolished, one is obscured and one is altered almost beyond recognition. There are numerous others which give this place its character and charm that are under threat.
This is a truly appalling record.
Six out of ten heritage structures or precincts demolished.
Surely the citizens of St Heliers and the citizens of greater Auckland deserve an explanation.
Part of the contract we enter in to as citizens is that we accept and respect governance and in return those who govern afford us security and protection.
All of us.
Not just those who own property.
Not just the two development companies that have over the past few years managed to buy up most of the prime sites in an historic village.
All of us.
The latest on the St Heliers list to fall, the three Turua Street houses, will not be the last. The whole street is under threat.
But the residents have known this for a very long time.
Over a 100 of them took the opportunity to tell the council how they felt at a notified resource consent hearing for the demolition.
Did the council listen.
Instead the council staff connived with the developer in a piece of planning sleight of hand to grant a consent in another non-notified hearing. The council provided then or at any other time no reasonably satisfactory heritage assessment. They did not make one.
Here is the issue.
How did that happen?
How did the council staff scare its political bosses to impotence?
Are they impotent and if so why have they chosen to stay that way?
This is not just a left wing right wing issue - councils and councilors of both stripes have heritage crimes to their name.
Remember Coolangatta and His Majesty's Theatre.
The new mayor and council cannot just wring their hands and run around like a Tui billboard promising that it will never happen again.
Why did it happen this time.
That is the question that must be asked and must be asked now.
There will be a next time and a next time and another next time after that until what is broken about Auckland's heritage protection is fixed.
There are two underlying issues beyond this particular piece of jiggery-pokery that the council just does not get - sadly many of our citizens seem not to get it either.
Heritage is not just buildings with some long and impressive CV.
It is sometimes that of course, but it is mostly the character of a place added to by the sum total of its parts.
Citizens who feel that about their city and respond to the enrichment it adds their lives and who strive to protect it, are not just busy bodies impeding development and getting in the way of architects who know better.
They have a right and a duty to defend what is valuable in their lives.
And we have a right and a duty to insist that those who govern do so in the interests of us all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


It has always troubled and puzzled me that Auckland is such a toxic environment for Heritage. Not only do heritage buildings stand here in constant danger of obliteration, but there sometimes seems to be an active conspiracy to demolish them without debate.
A conspiracy abetted or at least egged on, by a council of inert, misinformed or just plain stupid local body politicians.
The list of the disappeared is horrifying.
Among them irreplaceable buildings like His Majesty's Theatre, Jean Batten Building The Salvation Army Citadel and Coolangatta with The Saint James and The Mercury on death row. Almost all the fine old corner pubs from the 19th Century have gone.
Of other defining buildings in the CBD only a facade remains.
Had the council had its way we would have lost 23 heritage buildings in Britomart, the Logan Campbell kindergarten and the Rob Roy Hotel.
In architectural terms the "Spanish Mission" villas on Turua Street are not in the same league, but they do have heritage values and they do define the character of a neighborhood.
More to the point they are a surviving group of houses which are a fine example of the work of a leading villa designer of the early 20th century, William Henry Jaine. A architect who also has the exterior of the Takapuna Grammar School to his credit.
It is no surprise that a member of the public and not the council offered that significant piece of information. Council staff descriptions were of derelict villas beyond repair.
Today the fate of the Turua St houses will be sealed or prolonged in the Environment Court.
But the question remains: why did this dispute end up there and why didn't the new, self-proclaimed heritage friendly Auckland Council and its mayor Len Brown effectively intervene long before.
The answer is simple.
Like every limp-wristed Auckland council before them they were panicked by their staff in believing they couldn't and that it would cost them millions to do so.
At the same time they had the wool pulled over their eyes about how non-notified resource consent was granted after an earlier notified application which had attracted a 100 or so objections had been withdrawn.
To me that piece of planning sleight of hand seems dodgy in the extreme.
We should press the Mayor and the Council to explain and explain now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Auckland City has just invested $70 million in upgrading its art gallery.
One major approach to new building is through the narrow gutted Khartoum Place - never a cheerful piece of urban design and one made less cheerful by a water feature that attracts more rubbish than inspired passers-by.
The whole is dominated by a tiled mural commemorating the centenary of women's suffrage in New Zealand.
The work is not great. It is barely adequate for the great cause it commemorates. Its aesthetic can best been described as 1980's cut and paste graphic design. But it has its powerful supporters who have taken to describing it in terms of some sacred and inviable monument. Successive mayors have latched on to their defense as an easy and popular cause.
The current mayor, Len Brown, has joined their ranks adding its protection to his list of 100 things he is going to achieve. (It seems odd to claim credit for something that will require no thought and nil effort on his part.)
While the mural remains in its current site, a grand urban design opportunity is lost.
To open up the stairway and remove the water feature will radically improve the whole area both physically and visually.
Defenders of the mural say it cannot be moved.
Expert opinion says it can.
After all if Transit New Zealand can move an entire heritage hotel, the Rob Roy, without disturbing a brick, it should not be beyond the wit or skill of Auckland City to move a few hundred ceramic tiles.
There is a simple resolution.
Khartoum Place commemorates the lifting of a siege in Sudan in 1885. A British Imperial adventure which not only had nothing at all to do with us, but when invited to contribute troops, we staunchly refused to do so.
Rename the place Kate Sheppard Place or Suffrage Place.
Rebuild the stairs to open up the entrance to the gallery.
Re-site the mural.
Commission a major sculpture by a woman sculpture, and we have more than a few up to that job, which will commemorate Suffrage and the brave women who fought for it in a way the greatness of what they did deserves.
Surely this would be a win for the Suffrage Movement, Urban Design, the rate and tax payers who have contributed $70 million on a grand new gallery, and public art.
This would seem to be just the kind of inclusive resolution we were promised by the mayor when he campaigned for his job and the mandate the population gave him.
Just doing nothing is a wimpish way to add to a list of 100 achievements.
Talk around Mayor Brown and do something major for this blighted part of town.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


December 1st is a date we dread at our house. The Franklin Road Christmas lights turn on that night. They are a drag to put up and a greater drag to get the timers right. Then there is three weeks of struggling with a suburban footpath with the foot traffic of a shopping mall. A nightmare of fighting off huskers and amplified bands and this year PlayStation who see the generosity of the householders as a marketing device and the families who see the fences put up to protect the grass verges as a jungle gym or a VIP enclosure for their benefit.
We grumble.
We mend.
We pay the bills.
We see the bands off and demand to see the hucksters vending license.
We wonder why we do it.
But the first time we hear a child squeal with delight or watch them in their PJs carried down the road on Dad's shoulders we know why we do it. The lights are a beautiful gift and we are all proud to give it.
We know why we chase off the hucksters and turn away sponsorships.
We know why we refuse competitions and why we discourage charity collectors however worthy their cause and why we don't think badly played pop covers have anything to do with Christmas and choirs do.
This is a free gift freely given.
And we will go on giving it every year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The idea being floated by the chair and board members of Te Papa that they should spend $100 million of our money to build a new National Art Gallery, next door to the one that they already spent $300 million on and got wrong, would be a grand joke if it were not outrageous. The Dominion Post floats the argument that since they [Te Papa] have struggled to make their museum fit the "role of a national art gallery" they have had to stick the art the attic and should now be allowed to build a real national art gallery.
This is breathtakingly wrong.
Te Papa was to be built as the national museum and the national art gallery.
The board and the government got it wrong.
They were told they were going to get it wrong.
They went ahead any way.
The original concept of the Museum of New New Zealand was for a family of four museums sharing some common facilities but each with its own separate museum function.
One of those was the national art gallery.
That idea was dumped in favour of some all-purpose, iconic building in which the art had to find a place in the attic because nobody had thought better where it might go.
Nobody made the Te Papa board do that.
It did it to itself.
It did not listen to any criticism or accept any professional input.
In fact it sacked from its staff and from its board anyone who said the idea would fail.
Te Papa has failed the nation's art.
And we are now asked to cough up $100 million to solve the problems Te Papa built.
Think again.
There are much better ways of delivering the nation's art collections to the nation that owns them than building yet another monument to the Wellington brand.
For $100 million we could build fine exhibition halls in Auckland and Christchurch and show the nation's art to most of the country's population.
We should build around those exhibition halls a genuinely national museum service which could show works from those collections every where else galleries exist - which is in almost ever population centre.
The wretched thing about all this is that Te Papa has not only failed as an art museum it has failed as a museum per se.
It is a mall not a museum.
New Zealanders deserves more than that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have been re-reading D'Arcy Cresswell's Present Without Leave with the notion in mind that I might write something on what we have become. There was an enormous amount of speculation about New Zealand's future from the late 'thirties to the mid-fifties and I thought I might revisit all that and see how wildly wrong or savagely right they were. Cresswell seems so much on the button that he is worth quoting - what a contemporary ring has his commentary on how and why we pass laws and what we then think of them:

" ... their notion of what is wrong and what is merely unlawful is determined by the number of those who may be concerned, and whether they break the law openly, as the many may safe;y do, or secretly, as the few are compelled. In this their feeble condition is made plain, that in appearing to love freedom they love only lawlessness, and have no objection to laws being passed which they don't mean to keep. No doubt their manner of settlement first divided the theory from the practice of law, and allowed both the few to make laws and the many to break them. For in the backwoods a law indicated a state of emergency, and so it was agreed on; of which the officials and cranks took every advantage; and in this way laws are passed which men agree to in theory but not at first in practice as touching themselves. So a law that was passed in an emergency, or unnoticed, becomes in the end a fixed item of government, to be disregarded and laughed at if against the many, but held to be binding if against the few. And of this favourable state of affairs those take advantage who are forever scheming to introduce their peculiar views. For it is the characteristic of prudish and sectarian law-givers that they had rather their laws were passed than obeyed, dreaded than revered. Yet the making of true laws belongs alone to the highest statesmanship; ..."

It is a chilling thought to put those ideas from 1936 against the climate of our present law making whether it be earthquakes or Hobbits, copyright or blood alcohol levels.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I have often wondered - in private thought and on the record - where and why our committee culture began. When did we deliver ourselves up to agenda and issues and going forward and setting the date for the next meeting. When did meeting become a substitute for doing and the minutes of the last meeting replace reflective thought?
Thumbing through the opening paragraphs of D'Arcy Cresswell's Present Without Leave published by Cassell in 1939, but serialized in the Christchurch Press three years before, there it was - the answer.

"Their chief industry is farming, which they pursue with attention, and send their produce so far, a great many are needed to deal with shipping, accounting, land-dealing and money matters to handle so vast an outpouring of goods. From this necessity their cities arose, which are mainly governed by clerks, who so throve on this trade they soon had the whole country under their control, and administered everything, and multiplied every office, until now nothing and no one is free from their interference. There is no other land in the World, it is said, so burdened and plagued, nor clerks and officials so overbear ing and saucy."

Beautifully put. This book is well worth another read and a great ponder. Cresswell's writing so upset his fellow citizens, that when he came to sail away to English exile, the waterside workers at Lyttelton refused to load his bags on the boat and he had to carry them aboard himself. I suppose they had a meeting about it. I would have thought they would be glad to see him go.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Sam Neill draws a bead on an incoming Orc

Last month was one in which I was truly ashamed to be a New Zealander.
After half a century of watching creative Kiwis with commitment, guts, ingenuity and passion build a film culture out of nothing it was chilling to watch it driven into an orgy of mendacity, manipulation, vilification and injustice - and driven there by nothing more edifying than greed.
Over those fifty years I have had the good fortune to have been on the fringes of New Zealand film. By chance I designed the titles and credits for John O'Shea's Runaway. I wrote scripts for Pukemanu, Section Seven and Crawford's Matlock Police. As chair of the Arts Council I persuaded the council to fund Sleeping Dogs and a wild extravaganza by Geoff Murphy called Chicken Man. I doctored scripts for the early Film Commission. Best of all I sat in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre with tears of pride streaming down my chubby cheeks while my wife collected an Oscar for costume design for The Return of the King having also been nominated for Last Samurai. And we were aware that The Piano, Jane Campion and Anna Paquin had been there before
The rabid, unnecessary and ugly row around The Hobbit made me ashamed.
Sir Peter Jackson and Weta Workshops are not the New Zealand film industry. They are a significant part of it and have achieved marvelous things. But even in turnover they represent only about 10% of a nation wide industry worth $2.5 billion.
But it is more than money.
The film industry world wide is rich with talented New Zealanders - Directors, Producers, Cinematographers, Production Designers, Art Directors, Costume Designers and Actors. Warner Brothers major 2011 production Green Lantern had no less than eight New Zealanders, from the Director down, in creative roles - and it featured two New Zealand actors.
In last years Academy Awards, five out of the ten nominations for best film had some New Zealand creative input and, yes, two of those involved Weta and Sir Peter Jackson.
At home Taika Waititi's Boy broke the box office records set by The Worlds Fastest Indian and Whale Rider.
These are the achievements I wish the government had acknowledged long before last week when it got sucked into an unseemly and murky scourging of the shires.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Nobody can be in any doubt that governance at the Auckland Museum has collapsed.
In the latest episode the Director and the Board of Trustees are lawyering up for a stand off. They should not be allowed to go any further. If this was a DHB or a School there would be a suspension of both, the appointment of a commissioner and a totally transparent enquiry into to how matters have got to this point.
The Board can't blame the Director and the Director can't point her finger at the Board. In all of the major incidents in the past eighteen months the board must accept compliance with what Ms Vitali was doing. The latest scandal the resignation of the deputy-director Tim Walker after only six months on the job and his gagging with a confidentiality agreement was done and could only have been done with the full knowledge of the Board.
This is not the board or the director's museum.
It is ours.
We pay for it.
It is our treasures and our cultural memory in its care.
Perhaps their should be two commissioners appointed since the museum has important science collections as well as cultural and if there is any continuing fault preceding the current crisis it has been a failure to balance those competing functions.
The brief for the inquiry is simple:

The composition of the board and its competence.

What due diligence was done in appointing the current director.

Was the original restructuring justified in professional terms.

Was there any peer or professional review of the changes proposed and on what were they based.

The relationship between the Director and staff and in particular the resignation of the deputy-director after only six months.

Current and on-going financial management.

A review of the causes and management of the various breakdowns between the museum and its public during the term of the current director.

None of this is brain surgery. There is no need to import any foreign consultants. We have plenty of independent professional who know how to run museums.
I am one of them and I would be happy to put my hand up.
But whatever is done it must be done before the present ugly situation turns into an expensive and damaging legal war.
Expensive for us and damaging for the museum.
And a word for the mayors - do not pick sides and stay out of this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The Tino Rangitaratanga flag is the right choice for the Maori flag. In fact what other choice could there have been. It was the only contender that represented Maori alone. The Red Ensign despite the fact that Queen Victoria handed it out to tribes who had taken the colonial side in the Land Wars was always a nutty contender.

The 1835 original New Zealand flag - aka the flag of the United Tribes - was also a non starter. It is THE New Zealand flag and not just a part of New Zealand flag. It is the flag that originally represented us all - a sovereign and independent nation in nobody's thrall.
And it should be again.

The two flags that grace the Auckland Harbour bridge on Waitangi Day should be those two flags.
Dump the Jack and retrieve the identity we started out with as a proud, independent and sovereign state.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Auckland has some glaring deficiencies in the live theatre department.
Mercury Theatre is for sale.
Any aspiring Auckland Super City mayors able to join up these dots.
Or will the vibrant city chitter chatter turn out to be hot air after all.
Or worse will the picky theatre crew feel shy about being on K'Road and miss the chance of our lifetime.
Mercury is where it all began.
It could be where it all kick starts accessible live theatre again.
Or will Auckland's propensity for ditz and fluff aim another shot at its cultural foot.
Grab this chance people

Friday, November 13, 2009


Squirrels slither
Humming birds dash
Hawks hunt pigeons and bums want cash
LA crows sing blah blah blah
And for the walking man everywhere is far too far

Friday, November 6, 2009


Now the nonsense has been dumped will enlightenment follow on Queens Wharf. 
What do we actually need there.
Lets stop this iconic building bullshit.
First things first. 
Buildings become great building when they are superbly designed for their purpose but the purpose comes first and the more clearly that is defined the more chance there will be of the building built to serve it being great.
Have the vision and the visionary building will follow - well we hope.
Auckland needs to have a big and realistic think.
The Ports of Auckland want a cruise ship terminal.
They can build that on their own land not on land they cunningly sold to the city.
Mayor John Banks has pointed to Bledislow Wharf as an appropriate site for a cruise ship terminal and a convention/exhibition centre - he is spot on.
Now is the time for a wide ranging discussion and debate on what will be built on Queens Wharf. An elegant plan that will lift the city's dreary record on urban design out of the pit successive councils and their bureaucrats buried it in.
Most of all it must be something for the city and its citizens not a political or architectural folly.
Time to think and time to take the time to think.